Uniform of the Union Army

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A plate showing the uniform of a U.S. Army first sergeant, circa 1858, influenced by the French army Union soldier 1858.jpg
A plate showing the uniform of a U.S. Army first sergeant, circa 1858, influenced by the French army

The military uniform of the Union Army was widely varied and, due to limitations on supply of wool and other materials, based on availability and cost of materials during the United States Civil War. [1] The ideal uniform was prescribed as a dark blue coat with lighter pants, with a black hat. Officer's ranks were denoted with increasing levels of golden decoration. Specific jobs, companies, and units had markedly different styles at times, often following European customs such as that of the Zouaves. Officers uniforms tended to be highly customized and would stray from Army standard. Ironically, several main pieces of gear had been created by order of Confederate president Jefferson Davis before the war, when he was United States Secretary of War.



The standard U.S. Army uniform at the outbreak of the war had acquired its definitive form in the 1858 regulations. It consisted of a Campaign Uniform, a Parade (Dress) Uniform, and a Fatigue Uniform.

During the war, enforcement of uniform regulations was imperfect. Uniforms were adapted to local conditions, the commander's preference, and what was available. For example, shoulder straps began replacing epaulets in dress occasions. As a result, almost any variation of the official uniform could be found as officers and men abandoned some items, adopted others and modified still others.

Described in general terms this uniform consisted of:

Service and campaign

The service and campaign uniform consisted of the following:

  1. Headgear: A black felt Hardee hat, the Model 1858 Dress Hat, with one brim being secured by means of a metallic eagle after the U.S. coat of arms of the day. Forage caps were regulation for service and non-dress occasions, while the non-regulation kepi was also widely used.
  2. Coat: In Prussian blue, tight fitting and almost knee length, trimmed in the arm of service piping along the collar edges; and in the French-peak styled cuff trim, for all enlisted ranks. Company officers wore an untrimmed single-breasted coat, with shoulder straps to signify rank and branch of service. Cavalry and mounted artillery used a short jacket, which was more practical for riding. Field and general officers wore a double-breasted version, with the option for a black velvet collar and cuffs. A sack coat was also issued as a fatigue uniform, being lined for recruits, and unlined for a service uniform. Rank insignia was worn on the coat, the same as the dress frock.
  3. Greatcoat: In sky blue, with standing collar and French cuffs and a fixed short cape. Officers could wear this or a dark blue variant.
  4. Trousers for all enlisted men and company grade officers were sky blue. NCOs had a vertical stripe in the arm of service colours. General officers, field officers, and officers on higher staff wore trousers of the same shade of blue as the coat. General officers had their trousers trimmed with double striping in gold, with all other officer grades wearing piping with their respective branch of service.

Parade order

The parade uniform consisted of the following:

  1. Headgear: The hat described with trimmings in the arm of service colours. Some units such as marines and mounted artillery retained shakos for ceremonial purposes.
  2. Coat: The same described (frock or short shell-jacket) with metallic epaulets resembling scales. Officers wore French-type epaulets and a sash.
  3. Greatcoat: As described.
  4. Trousers: As described.
  5. Short jacket: As described


The fatigue uniform consisted of the following:

  1. Headgear: A forage cap with a floppy crown. Officers tended to privately purchase more elaborate versions after the French Army model subsequently known as chasseur caps. Generals wore a variant having a black velvet band. Insignia was pinned on top of the crown or -in officers- in front of the cap.
  2. Coat: A cheaply made dark blue sack-coat of a simple and unsophisticated design, having a loose cut, fall collar, and no pockets.
  3. Greatcoat: A large sky blue overcoat double-breasted for cavalry, single-breasted for infantry. Both had capes
  4. Trousers: Sky blue baggy wool trousers cut with pockets. Officers had dark blue or uniforms tailored to suit individual needs.

In general terms, as the war went on, the service uniform tended to be replaced by the cheaper and more practical fatigue uniform.



Rifle green sharpshooter's uniform, with McDowell pattern kepi. Allegheny County Soldiers Memorial - IMG 1545.JPG
Rifle green sharpshooter's uniform, with McDowell pattern kepi.
10th Veteran Reserve Corps bandsmen in sky blue jackets April 1865. Band of the 10th Veteran Reserve Corps. Washington, D.C. April, 1865.jpg
10th Veteran Reserve Corps bandsmen in sky blue jackets April 1865.
Historical re-enactor wearing the shako and gray tailcoat of a West Point cadet. The soldier in the background wears the M1839 peaked cap issued to enlisted US troops before 1858. Soliders-at-fort-washington-park.JPG
Historical re-enactor wearing the shako and gray tailcoat of a West Point cadet. The soldier in the background wears the M1839 peaked cap issued to enlisted US troops before 1858.


1866 picture of Model showing correct uniform of a Company "A" 1st US Cavalry Sgt wearing Hardee hat US Army Cavalry Sergeant 1866 (Bis).jpg
1866 picture of Model showing correct uniform of a Company "A" 1st US Cavalry Sgt wearing Hardee hat



The enlisted infantry uniform was completed with a black leather belt and oval buckle with the letters US. Officers, NCOs and cavalry troopers were equipped with a sword belt with a rectangular buckle with eagle motif.[ citation needed ]

Ranks and insignia


General Butler wearing uniform with sardine box shoulder bars and gold embroidery on the cuffs. General Benjamin Butler Brady-Handy.jpg
General Butler wearing uniform with sardine box shoulder bars and gold embroidery on the cuffs.

Rank was displayed on epaulettes (dress occasions) or shoulder straps(field duties): no insignia for a second lieutenant, one gold bar for a first lieutenant, two gold bars for a captain, a gold oak leaf for a major, a silver oak leaf for a lieutenant colonel, a silver eagle for a colonel and one, two or three silver stars for a general, depending on his seniority. [3]

The color of the shoulder strap fields [4] – with trims in gold braid – were as follows:

  • Dark blue: General officers
  • Dark blue: General staff
  • Sky blue: Infantry
  • Yellow: Cavalry
  • Orange: Dragoons (until August 1861)
  • Green: Mounted Riflemen (until August 1861)
  • Scarlet: Artillery
  • Dark green: Sharpshooters
  • Dark Blue: Judge advocate
  • Dark Blue: Medical corps
  • Dark Blue: Ordnance
  • Dark Blue: Pay corps
  • Dark Blue: Aides-De-Camp
  • Dark Blue: Adjutants
  • Dark Blue: Engineers
  • Dark Blue: Inspector
  • Dark Blue: Quartermaster
Officer Rank Structure of the Union Army
Lieutenant general [5] Major general Brigadier general Colonel Lieutenant colonel Major Captain First lieutenant Second lieutenant
Union Army Lieutenant general rank insignia.svg Union Army major general rank insignia.svg Union Army brigadier general rank insignia.svg Union Army colonel rank insignia.png Union Army LTC rank insignia.png Union army maj rank insignia.jpg Union army cpt rank insignia.jpg Union army 1st lt rank insignia.jpg Union 2nd lt rank insignia.svg

Contemporary photographs and a Winslow Homer painting, Playing Old Soldier, [6] show staff officers occasionally added their departmental initials within the shoulder straps between the rank insignia. "M.S." for "Medical Staff" appears to have been the most common. [7]

With the exception of slight changes to the representing insignia for the more junior commissioned grades as well as additional color combinations for new career fields, the shoulder strap insignia and color scheme survives largely unchanged in the modern era on the Army Service Uniform. [8]

A Union officer sporting the "Jeff Davis" hat adopted in 1858. Note the eagle motifs. JeffDavisHat.jpg
A Union officer sporting the "Jeff Davis" hat adopted in 1858. Note the eagle motifs.

Individual officers would sometimes add gold braid Austrian knots on their sleeves but this practice was uncommon as it made them easy targets and risked friendly fire as this was the standard insignia for Confederate officers.

Nevertheless, many officers personalised their uniforms. For instance, the "Jeff Davis" hat would be pinned back with eagle badges. Many cavalry officers were adorned with eagles and belts with eagle motifs. The designs were based on the Great Seal of the United States.

Non-commissioned officers

Ranks were worn as chevrons on the right and left sleeves above the elbow. They were colored according to service branch:

Enlisted Rank Structure
Sergeant Major Quartermaster Sergeant Ordnance Sergeant First Sergeant Sergeant Corporal Musician Private
Union Army Infantry Sergeant Major.svg Union Army Infantry Quartermaster Sergeant.svg Union Army Infantry Ordnance Sergeant.svg Union Army Infantry First Sergeant.svg Union Army Infantry Sergeant.svg Union Army Infantry Corporal.svg No insigniaNo insignia

Brass shoulder scales were worn on dress uniforms, with different features to signify enlisted ranks. Shoulder scales were not normally worn on service or fatigue uniforms. When in full dress and sometimes also in battle, Sergeants in non-mounted service branches carried the M1840 NCO Sword suspending on a leather belt (except for Hospital Stewards who carried a special sword model). Additionally all ranks above Sergeant (i.e. First Sergeant, Ordnance Sergeant, Hospital Steward, Sergeant Major etc.) wore crimson worsted waist sashes (In the Confederate States Army, all Sergeant ranks wore swords AND worsted waist sashes: red for Artillery and Infantry, yellow for Cavalry). Company QM Sergeants (with one horizontal bar across the top of the Sgt Stripes) worked with the Regimental QM Sergeants to disperse food and transport company items.


Color plate from the War of the Rebellion Atlas depicting the eagle motif on Union rank insignia. War of the Rebellion Atlas Plate 172.jpg
Color plate from the War of the Rebellion Atlas depicting the eagle motif on Union rank insignia.

Corps badges were originally worn by Union soldiers on the top of their army forage cap (kepi), left side of the hat, or over their left breast. The idea is attributed to Gen. Philip Kearny who ordered the men in his sew a two-inch square of red cloth on their hats to avoid confusion on the battlefield. This idea was adopted by Gen. Joseph Hooker after he assumed command of the Army of the Potomac, so any soldier could be identified at a distance, and to increase troop morale and unit pride – the badges became immensely popular with the troops, who put them anywhere they could, and the badges accomplished the objectives they had been created for, and the idea soon spread to other corps and departments.

Gen. Daniel Butterfield the task of designing a distinctive shape of badge for each corps. Butterfield also designed a badge of each division in the corps a different color.

The badges for enlisted men were cut from colored material, while officer's badges were privately made and of a higher quality. Metallic badges were often made by jewelers and were personalized for the user. The badges eventually became part of the army regulations.

Division badges were colored as follows:

  1. Red – First Division of Corps
  2. White – Second Division of Corps
  3. Blue – Third Division of Corps
  4. Green – Fourth Division of 6th, 9th and 20th Corps
  5. Yellow – Fourth Division of 15th Corps
  6. Multicolor – Headquarter or Artillery Elements (certain Corps)

European and civilian influence

The uniform itself was influenced by many things, both officers' and soldiers' coats being originally civilian designs.

Leather neck stocks based on the type issued to the Napoleonic-era British Army were issued to the regular army before the war. These were uncomfortable, especially in hot weather, and were thrown away by the men at the first opportunity to be replaced with cotton neckerchiefs, bandanas or (in the case of officers) neckties or cravats.

The basic cut of the uniform adopted in 1851 was French, as was the forage cap worn by some men, and the frock coat was a French invention. However, some parts of the French uniform were ignored, such as enlisted men wearing epaulettes and collar ornaments.

The army went even further than simply having a French-influenced uniform, with some regiments wearing French Imperial Guard voltigeur uniforms, or many even wearing zouave uniforms, such as the 62nd Pennsylvania Infantry, 63rd Pennsylvania Infantry, New York Fire Zouaves as well as the 18th Massachusetts. These consisted of a short blue jacket with red facings, fez, red or blue pants, a red sash and a blue waistcoat with brass buttons or alternatively a red overshirt.

The late-war sack coat was copied from the fatigue jacket worn by the 19th century Prussian Army.

The Hardee hat was inspired by the headgear of the Danish Army but was later abandoned.

See also

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  5. 1866~ Lieutenant general
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